There is not a more exceptional person in the 2012 GOP presidential field than Herman Cain in terms of life experiences and private sector success. And there is not a person who is capable of explaining American exceptionalism better than Newt Gingrich.
These strengths were on display on Labor Day as both candidates particiapted in the Palmetto Freedom Forum with three other GOP presidential candidates.
The two candidates with ties to Georgia have not been able to break away from the middle of the pack during this campaign season. They could not be more different in their backgrounds and experiences in life and government, but a hybrid version of them (and the strengths of their respective messages) could be the winning ticket in the GOP primary and against President Barack Obama in 2012.
To put it simply, American exceptionalism matters in Republican primaries. It is why immigration issues will matter in 2012 because it is a way for Republicans to speak about and discuss Americanism.
At the Forum, Gingrich stole the show by proposing ideas to eliminate the regulations such as Dodd-Frank that are screwing up the economy, reign in the federal judiciary and activist judges and even comparing himself to the University of South Carolina football team by saying that, like South Carolina did in their first game of the season last Saturday, his campaign has had some early fumbles but that he would prevail in the end.
But it was his discussion of “melting pot” Americanism that reverberated. Here’s Gingrich’s words:
When you have a country which is proud of its history, which is proud of its language, which is comfortable saying to people, come to America to be Americans, you can absorb more people than if you have a country whose elites are totally confused and are prepared to give up on being an American.
…if we’re not going to be a melting pot, we can’t afford to have very many people come here. When you realize that there are over 200 languages spoken in the Chicago school system, there are over 180 languages spoken at Miami-Dade Junior College, it’s why I favor English as the official language of government.
We need a unifying system which says, yes, we are eager to have people come to America, as they always have, but we want you to come here to be American. We don’t want you to come here to be confused about how this country operates.
It is hard to find a Republican who does not see the 2012 election as a pivotal election that will determine whether the country remains exceptional or begins an even more rapid descent to becoming an unexceptional version of Europe that is plagued by fiscal problems and multiculturalism.
When Gingrich speaks of American exceptionalism, if often sounds like he is speaking directly about Cain, a self-made businessman who turned around companies that many thought were doomed to fail. On Monday, Cain reminded the audience sneak into America and not out because of the exceptional nature of the country.
For those not born to privilege or who come to America to seek a better life, the greatest opportunities for them to achieve the American Dream exist in the private sector. And Cain personifies that success. Further, Cain’s lack of political experience fits with the anti-establishment mood of this election cycle. In addition, Cain’s argument that he will run turn around America’s economy by applying the same principles to governing that he did in the private sector when he turned around numerous companies is one that resonates with voters.
On Labor Day, Cain said:
…So goes the economy, so goes the strength the United States of America. We are the strongest economy in the world at our weakest point because of our free market system. We need to re-strengthen that free market system.
And it starts with one fundamental economic truth. The business sector is the engine of economic growth. If you do not start with that principle, we’re never going to move this economy. This is why I have proposed my bold plan of 999. Take the current tax code, which is a mess. It’s been there since 1913. Throw it out and put in a tax system with a nine percent corporate income tax, a nine percent tax on personal income and a nine percent national sales tax.
Cain is right. America cannot continue to be exceptional if there are less opportunities in the private sector for people like a young Cain. And Gingrich is right that America cannot be exceptional if it ceases to be a melting pot.
These are themes that will only pick up steam. Surely, Gingrich’s time in Washington is a liability this election cycle. And some voters are hesistant to vote for Cain, despite the fact that he has consistently generated the highest positive intensity score among all the candidates, because he has never held elected office before.
Obama’s disdain for the private sector and his inability to wrap his arms around American exceptionalism, even though his story could have only been written in America, will be liabilities for him in the 2012 general election.
These issues also happen to be ones that pull the heartstrings of Republicans perhaps more than anything else.
If it were possible to concoct a Cain-Gingrich hybrid candidacy, it may be the strongest Republican candidate in the field.
Such is reality that candidates, like humans, are imperfect. Gingrich and Cain have their imperfections, but the way they speak about American exceptionalism and the private sector are not.